The Grand Opening and Cree Nation Cultural Celebration on June 7-8-9, 2012 was not just an important milestone for the Cree nation, but an unprecedented celebration that involved nearly 1,000 visitors over the course of the three-day event, and that has people talking all over Canada and beyond.
There was a feeling that this was an historic event, and that sentiment was felt and shared by everyone who attended. Here are just some of the numerous expressions of thanks and commendation received by Aanischaaukamikw:
“After speaking to many of our guests I could tell they all had a great time and they expressed their gratitude of being part of Cree history in the making.” Abel Bosum
“I very glad to have taken part in this important event! I was very touched and I felt like home when I was there!” Tim Whiskeychan
Of course, the purpose of the event was to inaugurate the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute and make full use of its facilities for the first time. That was achieved in many ways with opportunity for guests to join guided tours of the exhibit, library and archives, and the professional work spaces. The gathering space was dedicated in official ceremony on June 8, 2012 and is now known as the Chief Billy Diamond Hall. The late Chief Billy Diamond was an instrumental figure in the early years of Aanischaaukamikw’s development, and so fitting that with his family and many of his former colleagues in attendance, the gathering space should be named in his honour.
The demonstrations by a few Cree artists in the workshop were particularly impressive and enriching as visitors could witness the artist’s work in process. Aanischaaukamikw purchased a piece of art from each of the artists to commemorate this important occasion and will have these on display in the near future.
The celebration itself was more – it was a combination of paying honour to our culture and traditions, and pure entertainment. The program featured Cree comedians, some of our best craftsperson’s and artists, musicians and fiddle dancing that continued well into the night not one but three nights in a row.
The Grand Opening celebration leaves no doubt that Aanischaaukamikw is a cultural institute intended for all of Eeyou Istchee, and to be shared with all of Canada and the world as well. This spirit of inclusion was represented in the community teepees and the Elders and artisans who occupied them to showcase their respective customs and traditions.
One of the most pleasant highlights of the event was the warm sense of fellowship, friendship and especially community that many visitors could feel. This feeling left everyone with a renewed sense of identity, purpose and pride.
Aanischaaukamikw’s Grand Opening was the work of many collaborators who helped to make this event so memorable, but a special nod goes to the community of Oujé-Bougoumou for their tremendous support and assistance.
In closing, Willie Iserhoff, himself an important Aanischaaukamikw contributor, could not have said it better: “We’ve come this far…this is just the beginning for good things to come.”
Photography by Gaston Cooper